Urban Hum creates a buzz

Producing liquid gold in the heart of Newcastle.

When Mayfield couple Anna Scobie and Kelly Lees found themselves handpollinating their zucchini flowers to help them grow, they wondered if nature had a better way of supporting their vegetable garden. That’s what first turned their attention towards bees. After doing a course on beekeeping in Dungog, they were confident enough to get themselves two backyard hives and their love of beekeeping flourished.

They began selling their excess honey at the Hunt & Gather markets in Newcastle around six years ago. During those early days, Anna and Kelly considered the success of urban rooftop beehives in Melbourne and wondered if they could follow a similar model in Newcastle to bring more bees into the city.

Hosting a hive

“We just did a chalkboard sign at the market saying ‘are you interested in hosting a hive?’ And that year we ended up having 25 hives,” Anna said. This was the beginning of their successful beekeeping business Urban Hum which sees the duo care for 130 backyard and rooftop hives across 26 suburbs in the Hunter from Warners Bay, New Lambton and Cardiff to Mayfield, Stockton and Bob’s Farm. Locals host the hives for them and they maintain the hives and harvest the honey.

“People want to support the health of honey bees and make a positive environmental impact. It’s part of a return to a connection to food,” Anna explained. The hosts, and those in their neighbourhood, then get the added benefit of bees pollinating their gardens.

The amount of honey that is extracted from the hives can vary with weather and seasons and what is flowering. A hive can produce between 20 and 100 kgs a year. The honey produced is high quality, raw and untreated. Most of Urban Hum’s honey is single origin, meaning the honey is extracted from the one hive.

“You can actually have two hives sitting next to each other and the honey can taste completely different depending on where the bees go to forage,” Kelly said.

“There are definitely undertones to the flavours from some areas. Islington has a lemony undertone which comes from the paperbarks and Stockton is usually really strong with a dark golden syrup colour,” Anna added.

It’s all delicious though. Just ask their 20-month-old daughter, Nancy, who is known for getting her hands on the honey pots. “She’s totally obsessed with honey, there have been a few honey bucket disasters,” Kelly laughed.

Raw, bioactive delights

Something to keep in mind when buying their product is to remember that raw honey crystalises. “A lot of people are used to buying supermarket honey that’s heat treated, that doesn’t have the nutritional profile raw honey has but it stays liquid forever and that’s what they expect,” Anna said.

“The fact ours crystalises has got to be a selling point for people with kids because it doesn’t drip,” Kelly added. “Plus all of the bioactive ingredients from the floral sources end up in your honey but if you heat treat you reduce all that bioactivity”. Commercial honey has the pollen micro filtered out of it so that it doesn’t candy, but with this you lose the health benefits of pollen which is high in essential amino acids and proteins.

More than honey

While honey is at the heart of Urban Hum, the business has a few other arms to it. To avoid any waste, they use the wax, which is a byproduct of the honey-making process, to create some beautiful natural products. These include surfboard wax and a mosquito repellant.

On top of this they also run another business called Wedding Honey where they create personalised small jars of honey as wedding favours. Another key aspect to the business is education. The pair come from a teaching background so this element comes naturally to them. “Obviously we’re passionate about good quality raw honey and the health benefits it has and that’s always going to be core to our business but being able to contribute to the landscape of bee education in Australia is really exciting,” Anna said.

For more information about Urban Hum and their local stockists go to urbanhum.com. You can also find Urban Hum at The Olive Tree Markets.

Story Nathalie Craig, photos courtesy of Urban Hum

Read more great stories in the Autumn issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.